Rob Duffy: Sidewalk Botanist - Early Spring Notes

Chickweed in flower (Rob Duffy)


Last Saturday, the 14th, was the warmest day (at 14 degrees celcius) in nearly 5 months and an excursion across the Roby fields and ponds was a positive pleasure. Beyond the M62 bridge, a huge field of young winter wheat covers a kilometre in length and somewhat less in width; within it a series of ponds are enclosed by hawthorn hedges, ditches run with clear water and here and there are alder and willow “carr”.

Willows were flushing various shades of subdued colour, a sure reminder that the season had changed. Pussy willow catkins provided nectar for Small Tortoiseshell and Comma, while near Edenhurst Avenue I saw my first Peacock. Among the willows I could see a Reed Bunting and amongst the brambles caught sight of my first Chiffchaff.

Edenhurst Avenue was the “frontier” between town and country when I was a child in the 60’s and it is surprising that it remains so, 50 years later.

Returning to the pavements, April is probably the best time to get to grips with the seemingly indistinguishable variety of crack hugging, small, white flowered things, observation of which could enliven any visit to the corner shop; such as: Chickweed (Stellaria media), Whitlowgrass (Erophila verna), Thale Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), Sweet Alison (Lobularia maritima)and  Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta). Any quick identification tips?

Thale Cress is everywhere by mid April,  a gangly, sparsely leafy plant, with nodding flowerhead, and thin seed pods; while Whitlowgrass is petite, with just a prominent basal rosette, but in decline by the end of the month. Sweet Alison is leafier than Thale Cress with more prominent nodding flowering heads. I noticed it some weeks ago. Wavy Bittercress and Hairy Bittercress are easy to distinguish with a hand lens but generally have different habitats. The excursion to the corner shop will most likely reveal the latter. Its lower kidney shaped leaves distinct from the upper leaves. Chickweed is quite the prettiest and, moreover, edible!

The tiny blue flowers of (probably) Myosotis ramosissima (Early Forget-Me-Not) provide a nice contrast.

Looking upwards, Horse Chestnut is in full leaf and Beech not far behind. Catkins of Alder are well displayed, while Norway Maple is in full flower.

As inspired by Derwent May’s Nature Notes in “The Times”.

R.D. 18/04/2018